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Review: Dragon Quest Builders (Switch)

8

Great

Dragon Quest has been lingering around for three long decades becoming a pinnacle of the JRPG genre. While the western audiences never quite held the same fervour as the Japanese gamers, the franchise still has a place in the hearts of many. Of course, any game that has held on for that long is bound to have featured its fair share of spinoffs. From monopoly real-estate games to musou hack ‘n’ slashes, the franchise has spread across numerous genres. Yet it was just two years ago when a new spinoff popped up to confuse just about everyone. Of all the weirdness Dragon Quest has thrown out, the mixture of Dragon Quest and Minecraft was not something many were expecting.

Dragon Quest Builders showed players that publisher Square Enix was more than willing to let Dragon Quest have some fun. Now two years later, the survival building game is getting another shot in what seems like the ideal home. Dragon Quest Builders is releasing on the almost year old Nintendo Switch, bringing the same game from two years ago to those outside the PlayStation ecosystem. Despite seeming like a match made in heaven, does Dragon Quest Builders meet its potential on the Switch?

Building blocks of slime

Using Minecraft as a means of explaining survival elements is not uncommon. Considering how it presented the ‘modern’ interpretation of the survival crafting game makes it an easy one to give players an idea of what to expect. With Dragon Quest Builders the comparison goes a lot deeper than just explaining general functionality. Dragon Quest Builders quite obviously looked at Minecraft and used the design philosophy of the ‘building block’ literally. That is how the world of DQ Builders is constructed, with thousands upon thousands of blocks the player will be breaking, collecting and placing.

That is the itch that Dragon Quest Builders scratches. It is a direct take on the Minecraft formula with some DQ furnishings. While blocks serve as the most important building tool, they are by no means the only shape players will be working with. DQ Builders understands that the blocks can serve as the basics but there are more specific items that cannot be shown through a cube.

But enough about blocks and all their outstanding glory, there is a lot more to cover. So from blocks, players will be crafting a variety of useful tools to not only aide their journey but create vanity items. The game is a more structured affair compared to its contemporaries and thus creates a much friendlier take on the genre. Recipes are given and items needed for specific creations are told to the player via the relevant crafting station. Dragon Quest Builders eases the player into the world and gameplay style and never quite holds the notorious ‘sink or swim’ mentality often seen with these games.

Of course, we cannot forget the other elements of the game outside of building and crafting. In terms of ‘survival’, this comes through two notable gameplay elements: hunger and the day/night cycle. The former is a bar that players need to keep filled unless they wish to lose health. Hunger won’t be anything more than an annoyance with the slowly decreasing health being negligible. The day/night cycle is a bit more taxing as the game becomes a lot harder at night, trying to force the player to sleep. It is not the worst to happen but it is never worth running around in the darkness forcing a return to base.

Now onto the final part of the genre tropes with combat. To be blunt, the combat is a simple affair of hitting one button. It is about learning the enemy attack patterns and using the tools at your disposal to get through as quickly as possible. It serves its purpose but is not anything noteworthy. Despite holding the name of the legendary series, DQ Builders is no RPG. The strength of the character is based on equipment and not level meaning that the better equipment is what will make the game easier to go through. This also creates a more streamlined and focused form of gameplay through progression.

Dragon Quest Builders hits all the relevant genre checklists that players have seen before. Its greatest strength, however, is that is much more accessible in its presentation of the mechanical mainstays. It plays to a wider audience allowing for anyone, regardless of experience with genre an easy way to get into the game. This is also displayed through death which will just drop some of the player’s items (which they can go pick back up). It is much more forgiving in almost every aspect on a comparative level to any other Minecraft inspired game out there. If you have ever wanted to try the genre put forward by Minecraft but had some trepidation, Dragon Quest Builders serves as the best opener for almost every player. Even for veterans, it can still be a relaxing treat.

With the great power to build, comes the responsibility to build for all

So Dragon Quest Builders is broken up into two main game modes: the genre mandatory ‘free build’ mode and a story mode. Focusing on the story first is a necessity due to the structure of the game. So onto the story mode of Dragon Quest Builders, an almost too expansive way of presenting all the games mechanics and features.

The tale Dragon Quest Builders tells is one of humanity losing to the evil of the world. DQ Builders takes place in an alternate history of the very first Dragon Quest game in which the Dragonlord was successful in his quest for world domination. After centuries, the player character is awoken by the god Rubiss herself in order to take on the role that was lost to time. You see, you take control of a builder, actually, you take control of the builder. When the Dragonlord took away the light of the world and the hope humanity had, he also took away the greatest strength of the humans: the ability to build! That is why through your incredible talent of being the only person able to place blocks atop one another must be used to save the world.

If this sounds incredibly silly and goofy, that is because it completely is and the game is more than aware of that. Dragon Quest Builders does not take itself seriously, constantly having characters make fun of the entire situation. It is lighthearted in all the best ways and while the dialogue can be vapid, it can deliver a cute laugh through the characters. The story mode is spread across four chapters each having their own ‘hook’ in terms of gameplay and goals. The items you can craft will be different and the manner by which you scour the new land won’t entirely mimic what you did before. There is a variety that works in the game’s favour with each chapter being distinct and unique.

The worlds are massive and can be big time sinks which leads to probably the biggest problem of the game – almost every chapter can overstay its welcome.

In each of the worlds, the created character is given a small piece of land not tainted by the darkness that surrounds it. This is the home base by which players will be setting up their equipment for the next attack. As you start  building up, characters will start moving to your village with some specific requests. This will lead the progression as the player slowly builds up to the relevant confrontation at the end of the chapter. After a big story battle, there is a new portal for that chapter leading to a new section alongside new and stronger monsters, materials and crafting recipes.

The four chapters of story can seem quaint at first glance but they became a massive time commitment. It is very hard to gauge just how long a run can take through each chapter due to the openness of play style. At a minimum, players will be looking at about 25 hours for all four chapters but that number will likely be considerably higher just for the story. The worlds are massive and can be big time sinks which leads to probably the biggest problem of the game – almost every chapter can overstay its welcome. The chapters can really start to drag themselves out through repetitive quests and hunting. It can be an outright slog towards the end with more left to do. It can really turn the charm and fun into a bore as the game drags its feet. The cute dialogue mentioned earlier is nowhere near engaging enough to carry you through. If you can power through, your ultimate reward is the mode synonymous with the genre.

Terra Incog-a-rama

With the story out of the way, we can finally look at what most players will thrive for in these kinds of games: the free play/build mode. In Dragon Quest Builders, players will have access to the island of Terra Incognita. The mode is available following completion of the first chapter and gives players the chance to frolic and build to their heart’s content. Yet what the player has access to is based on how far they are in the story and what has been accomplished.

Free build mode might be available early on but that does not mean players will be able to hop right in with all the options at their fingertips. This is why story mode becomes mandatory as through completing each chapter, new islands and recipes are unlocked on Terra Incognita. This only goes further as to unlock everything will also require the bonus objectives to be completed in each chapter which can add a lot more playtime. The bonus objectives will display once the chapter is completed with players able to access the last save point of the chapter to get the job done.

This serves as the biggest detriment of what could have been the main attraction of DQ Builders. By requiring the story mode to be completed, there is a good chance that you can come away burnt out by the time you get into Terra Incognita. If you are able to continue though, this mode is an absolute treat to let your creativity run free. With everything unlocked, there is no limit to the ornate and wondrous creations the player could achieve. You don’t even have to limit the creations to just your game, as DQ Builders features a little bit of multiplayer sharing.

In the main and safe island of Terra Incognita (where monsters won’t spawn), there are two crucial little items: the sharing stone and the summoning stone. Each can be broken and plonked anywhere displaying the area it will be working from. The summoning stone will generate items that other players have created either through random selection or by the player inputting a code. This allows communities to share their own creations for all to use. The sharing stone is what allows these creations to be shared through the internet for all players. It is by no means an incredibly deep addition but it can be a lot of fun to get a random building by chance. It works well in terms of DQ Builders and is worth messing with.

So Terra Incognita is the mode that will let players pull out all the stops. It is perfect for what it needs to be once everything is unlocked but that right there is the biggest issue. If players are still willing post-story mode to return to the island and finally get that craved freedom, then the joy will immediately hit. Otherwise, it might be asking a bit much after four long chapters. Maybe after a break from the game post-completion, it might be a more appetising offer.

The strangest spinoff with the biggest heart

If you are a fan of the Dragon Quest series, and more specifically the first few games of the franchise, then Dragon Quest Builders will be a treat. The game never shies away from the franchise whose name it bears and will joyfully frolic and all the nostalgia it can muster. Through the musical cues to even the transitions in battle, there is a real sense of love that is translated through the design.

Even if you don’t consider yourself a Dragon Quest fan for either the original game or the franchise, DQ Builders will still enchant players with a joyous presentation. While it is by no means a graphical looker, the design decisions in creating a chibi world with big-headed characters and overly childish anime visuals works wonders at drawing the player in. The childish aesthetic works even better when the world is just composed of many little blocks. Akira Toriyama returns to design the characters of the game and this will bring the usual praise and criticism associated with it. As good as the character designs are, they can be repetitive to the style the man has held onto for over three decades.

There are a lot of great little references in the dialogue that a keen eye should catch. This one can’t help but scratch up a smile.

Then we get to one of the best features of the game: the soundtrack. While not quite as expansive as the franchise usually gets, the few tracks that are here are nothing short of magical. They are all orchestrated versions of older Dragon Quest songs spanning from the first to the fifth game. While this may be disappointing to some, they absolutely work within the context and there is no denying just how well all these tracks have aged. They elicit a great sense of happiness as they boom through the speakers. There may only be a few but what is there makes running around each of the worlds doing busy work a nicer time. Even when the chapter can stick around for far too long, no song ever became a nuisance even after the hundredth time of hearing it.

Switching up the port

So it would be remiss if we didn’t touch on the game ending up on a new system. Dragon Quest Builders is a port of the same game that came out almost two years ago. Nothing has been changed in the transition bringing everything the first offered over. While it is the same game it was on the PlayStation 4 and Vita, it is worth saying that the Switch is the ideal home for Dragon Quest Builders.

The Nintendo Switch is the best platform for the kind of experience Dragon Quest Builders is presenting.

The Switch’s hybrid like function of being able to move between handheld mode and console mode allows DQ Builders to shine on the system. The title became a wonderful companion game when time would allow. It works alongside almost any other form of entertainment as a nice side piece that never fully draws your attention away. It can allow the player to watch some of there favourite shows while slowly grinding the right materials to get that perfect bedroom. This alleviates some of the duller moments that may come through the general grind that accompanies crafting and survival games. In terms of performance, the Switch port runs incredibly well in both docked and handheld mode. The number of times the performance noticeably dipped could be counted on one hand so they are a rare occurrence.

If you have played Dragon Quest Builders before, it may be a tough sell due to players having to go through the story mode all over again to get to the real joy of the free mode. For first time players, it becomes a lot easier to recommend. The Nintendo Switch is the best platform for the kind of experience Dragon Quest Builders is presenting. If you are looking for something that can act as enjoyable busy work while bingeing on YouTube or just wanting to waste an hour in bed, DQ Builders has you covered.

Building together once again

Dragon Quest Builders for the Nintendo Switch is the same game it was when it first released. All the praises and criticisms it received then still translate to the Switch version but now there is the added bonus of the system’s main function. The console/handheld hybrid gets the best of both worlds when it comes to playing Dragon Quest Builders in almost the ideal setting. The issues of the game becoming a grind later in chapters are alleviated due to the handheld mode turning it into a companion game.

If you have held out on Dragon Quest Builders, now you get the golden opportunity through what is easily the best version. It serves as one of the best entry points for the crafting survival genre and the Switch only makes it that much easier. Coming in at a bit of a reduced price from the average release, it is an easy game to recommend for all players. Even if you never liked the genre, Dragon Quest Builders may be streamlined enough to suck you in.

Good

  • Wonderful experience on the Switch
  • Lovable visuals and soundtrack
  • Fun and less taxing survival/ crafting
  • Easily accesible

Bad

  • Story chapters can overstay their welcome
  • Free Build mode held back until story completion

Summary

Dragon Quest Builders has found its ideal home on the Nintendo Switch. The building and crafting game fits right in and can be a wonderful time, especially as a companion game to other activities. While the issues are still very present, there is still a lot of fun to be had which holds more weight for first time players.
8

Great

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